When my son died, I believed in the durability of love. Yet it was never a given that I could overcome loss. I had to release Chris, mustering the courage to embrace our love in the realm of the sheer airborne present.
I had been on a spiritual path for a few years, my teacher, Dawn, having opened my eyes to a higher reality, helping pave the way to receive Chris’s death. In the aftermath of his passing, I had to learn to climb the sky.
Faith and Love
On the spiritual path, climbing is a mirror image of diving. The deeper you go into the inner wellspring of life, the closer you come to God. In the midst of loss, I brought myself time and again, albeit briefly, into the sanctity of pure communion—beyond timed existence, where love never dies.
In the early days, the sense of loss was so overwhelmingly real, spiritual awareness was like sand sifting through my fingers. I tried to keep to the higher road, but couldn’t.
The beautiful thing about faith is that once it takes root, it allows you to keep on. Without faith, I would have tumbled, perhaps forever, into the past, futilely longing to reclaim what couldn’t be.
As months passed and Chris’s life on Earth receded into the distance, I pushed through uncertainty, fearing the day his spirit would also disappear and all would be lost. As months became years, I witnessed the strengthening of our soulful bond. What once was faith became faith’s rendering. God set Chris’s death before me to help me grow, opening me up to things eternal.
Excerpt from Freedom to Fall
With the coming of spring, bleak days were followed by blessed days,such divine sweetness,when the light of Heaven streamed through, and I would see with fresh eyes that Chris’s death had been purposeful….
When all of life is glad again and bursting with exuberance, the tender buds of healing can peek through. Wondrously, in the midst of tumult came a steadying sense of closeness with Chris in my heart. I could be with friends without being overwhelmed with sadness. Most significantly, for the first time, I was taking a few of Chris’s framed pictures out of the drawer where I had placed them and setting the out. Amid the pangs and birthing of spring, I created a shrine, which included pictures, a St. Christopher stature, Chris’s climbing photo album, and an urn of his ashes.
After my son died while rock climbing in Yosemite National Park, May 2003, I ventured into his world. I wanted to understand why climbing had been the heart of his life. Why would he have done something so risky that it could take him from us forever, especially since he knew I loved him so?
I learned that climbing for Chris had been an impassioned expression of a spiritual path. High up in the elements, moving across stone, Chris had felt a deep abiding connection. As his best friend, Greg, told me, “Chris climbed for the pure joy of the act itself. He was acutely aware of the ‘spirit of the mountains,’ an intuition that was obvious in his art form—that of dancing on rock.”
Entering the Rock Climbing World
In January 2004, for Chris’s birthday, Greg, his girlfriend Sarah, and I traveled to the climbing site of Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California. The scene was stark: granite monoliths rising out of a sandy plain studded with the twisted, spiked Joshua trees, resembling shrunken palms. The days were an immersion in sun, wind, and rock, as I watched Greg and Sarah climb, the nights fiercely cold. As we sat around the camp fire, Greg talked about his climbing partnership with Chris. They had come of age exploring the South Platte River Basin in Colorado. “Back in those remote mountains, Chris would often say, ‘I feel at home here.’ It was quality rock, a lot of adventure, and just that sense of solitude, when you’re the only one for miles and miles….”
The loss of my son caused a fundamental shift in my approach to life. If what was most precious could be taken away, then what was life for? Why was I here? It seemed as though God was holding a vision for awakening to a truer life.
We create our lives in partnership with God. For Chris’s sake, I wanted to see what was possible to make the best of his passing. And if this experience was potentially life-changing, I wanted to step to the plate.
Losing Chris taught me what is important in life. I gave up trying to prove myself, to garner accolades or recognition. I stopped seeking life or trying to reap benefit or advantage. I settled down into the person I am, the life I have, and the little gifts that abound. I became more giving of myself. I opened up to a life founded in love.
In finding a more authentic life, I was able to keep my bond with Chris alive. The love that shone brightly for Chris also allowed me to heal. It allowed me to eventually step beyond the borders of grief to connect more deeply to life in the surroundings, to awaken to my humanity.
Losing Chris helped simplify my life. It revealed how fragile life is: hopes and dreams can shatter in an instant. It showed me what can never break. It is not God’s desire that we continue to suffer. God wants us to discover the truth about life—the gem at the center that allows us to thrive.